22:01 PM

Yahoo unveils Media RSS spec and elaborates on its schizophrenic strategy

YahoooohaY.jpgYesterday at the Syndicate conference in New York, Yahoo unveiled its Media RSS 1.0 spec and announced support from OurMedia, a nonprofit site that allows users to upload and share multimedia creations, and from blog tools like FeedBurner and blogdigger.

Media RSS is an extension of RSS that allows feed publishers to include rich metadata describing the media content. "It's meant to be a self-publishing tool to communicate information about your feed," explained Brad Horowitz, Yahoo's director of media search. "Podcasting is a way to include enclosures in RSS. Media RSS is the way to make your podcast findable and discoverable."

Watching Yahoo has seemed a confusing endeavor. On one hand it is creating serious Hollywood relationships and setting up shop in Santa Monica; on the other hand it is building open systems and garnering serious open source cred. While this seems like a schizophrenic identity, it's becoming obvious that Yahoo means to play at both ends of the spectrum.

Brad said that Yahoo's vision is "My Media" - a middle way between mass media and micro media. In Yahoo's vision, "my" means both the stuff I've selected (as in My Yahoo) and the stuff I'm creating. Yahoo's media plans are to make high-leverage deals with Hollywood, do content deals with small individual creators like Jib-Jab, and provide the tools to allow users to find and create media. Yahoo calls this FUSE - "find, use, share and expand" - and the ultimate dataset is "all human knowledge." (That's a line taken right from Google's playbook, btw.)

Brad talked at some length about Yahoo's acquisition of Flickr, which is the poster child for multifaceted sharing of user-created data. By providing open APIs to its closed source system, and not trying to control how people used the system, Flickr built a most unpredictable phenomenon. Yahoo wants to try to apply Flickr's success on a much bigger scale.

On the other hand, it keeps Hollywood happy by pushing traffic back to the studios' sites, rather than aggregating their content. For smaller content providers like iFilm, Yahoo media search delivers substantial traffic jumps. The company is very protective of partners' copyrights, and Hollywood execs actually use Yahoo Video Search as an "infringement search tool"; Yahoo removes infringing content as it is reported.

That's somewhat at odds with the goal of turning consumers into producers. I asked Brad if they were interested in pulling the studios along to free up more content for users to remix. The answer was no; Yahoo's agenda is mostly to gain studios' confidence.

So Yahoo is fighting several battles. It's competing with Apple for the loyalty of the big studios. It competes with Google for search advertising customers. Those business models are pretty well set. What seems like open territory is the so-called "long tail," the promising but unproven potential to make money off the enormous volume of content that average people are creating. Getting there means Yahoo needs to help drive the standards forward, and that it needs to so in a truly open way.